The ‘Woke’ Jew’s Chutzpah

Opinions expressed in this article may not necessarily reflect those of the Editorial Board.

 

In a recent opinion article titled My Jewish values make me critical of the Trump-Israeli coalition, Georgia Tuckerman argues that, rather than be a “mechanical supporter” of the Jewish state, her Jewish values oblige her to condemn Israel. Regardless of her accuracy regarding Israel’s policies, she has the chutzpah—the audacity—to use Judaism as a means of attacking Israel. 

Tuckerman’s methods are not unique; many far-left groups on campus use similar positions of authority derived from Jewish identity for radical criticisms of Israel. These radical criticisms include the rejection of Zionism and criticism of Israel that seem hypocritical compared to the actions of most other states in similar positions. The practice of using the very traditions and texts a secular individual ought to scorn as a means of critiquing the Jewish state may seem novel, but has deep and tragic roots. 

To clarify, the ‘woke’ Jews use their Jewish heritage to portray their criticisms of Israel as having more legitimacy than those of non-Jewish critics. The woke Jews are a group of individuals who try to incorporate their Jewish faith into their far-left wing radical views. Anytime one’s Jewish faith is used in an argument against Israel, the wielder of this argument claims a false legitimacy. Judaism is inherently tied to the concept of Israel, so those who use it to support an argument for the Jewish state’s existence are merely citing two-thousand-year-old evidence supporting Israel’s existence. Little compelling evidence exists in Jewish sources for the opposite argument. This tactic is also eerily similar to how 13th-century Jewish heretics used their identities to argue for the conversion and abuse of European Jews, as evidenced by the accounts of the disputations. The disputations were forced trials of Judaism in which Jewish leaders had to defend, often under duress, claims about their religion. The two most famous disputations occurred in Barcelona and Paris in the 13th century. 

Providing some background of the Barcelona disputation, Jewish Christian-convert Pablo Christiani commanded a tenuous grasp when he tried to argue that the rabbis were wrong: Judaic texts supported the Christian theology of Jesus as the messiah. Christiani knew it was advantageous to be critical of Judaism. Outside of the debate, Christiani’s profession was to go around Spain convincing Jews to convert to Christianity. He did not participate in the debate to defend a legitimate position but instead because of the benefits he would receive for getting Jews to convert. But when forced to defend his ideas in an intellectual discussion, he was made a fool by Nachmanides, a Jewish rabbi. The Christian monks organizing the disputation had to end the debate early to avoid further embarrassment. It is in a similar method that Jews like Tuckerman, who have a less knowledgeable background of their identity form ignorant opinions. Indubitably, social pressure could be an element in the creation of these opinions. Anyone indifferent about Israel in a community deeply critical of the Jewish state will likely conform to these beliefs, Jew or gentile. But the chutzpah of these conforming Jews is that they bolster their friends’ anti-Israel arguments with arguments from their fledgling identity. The result, as with Christiani’s case, is flat out disinformation through identity. 

Tuckerman criticizes the Israel Defense Forces’ use of “excessive” force, for example, while she does not know what the ‘Jewish values’ are surrounding self-defense. The rabbis demand that we deal strongly with people who pursue harm (Sanhedrin 73a). We are commanded, in many cases, to take preventative measures that can be much more extreme than the ones that Tuckerman calls “excessive.” Tuckerman, however, probably does not know these obligations. Her description of Jewish values is little more than a poor caricature of the most basic tenets; she describes the Jewish values of tzedakah and gemilut hasadim—charity and repairing the world. These, however, have no real relevance to the topic of her article or on her purported attack of Israel.

From a secular perspective, for those who agree with Tuckerman in the presumption that Israel acts excessively, I would urge them to think of a country, that, faced with a similar level of internal and external threats, has acted in a way that would make Israel’s actions seem comparatively “excessive.” No country can come close to the level of restraint used by Israel in these circumstances, so it would be unfair to bring attention to Israel for excessive force. Criticism of Israel using Tuckerman’s justifications of “Jewish Values”, therefore, is one of either convenience or ignorance to support a view critical of Israel. Using Judaism to support these arguments is a Chillul Hashem, desecration of God’s name. 

However, Tuckerman’s errors pale in comparison to those who purposefully manipulate their identity to serve an agenda. Nicholas Donin was the apostate Jew who led the disputations in Paris in the 13th century. Unlike Christiani, he didn’t allow an open discussion; he simply attacked the Jewish traditions by claiming that Judaism unjustly criticized Christianity. The only remedy, in his eyes, was that the Jewish commentary, the Talmud, be banned. As a result, the prized possession of the French Jews—24 cartloads of Talmuds—and the Ashkenaz intellectual tradition dating from the time of the Babylonians with it, was set afire in the Place de la Concorde.

Christiani’s errors stem from an ignorant argument, and those of many Jews on campus, can also be excused likewise from ignorance; however, Donin, and others, on the contrary, purposefully use their identity to exploit the ignorance of others. In Donin’s case, this exploitation meant manipulating the Catholics to believe that Jewish texts contained seditious materials. As a result, the disputation was decided by the ruling Catholic monks before it even began. Some on campus follow a similar doctrine: they deceptively use their Jewish identities to bolster support for their views. Their chutzpah is twofold. First, they make assertions similar to Tuckerman in that they have enough knowledge of Judaism to assert that it demands criticism of Israel. The second is that they have the chutzpah to attempt to stretch this position of authority to destroy establishment Jewish institutions such as Hillel because of their support of Israel. To be clear, I am not arguing that Israeli policy regarding Palestinians is justified (though it certainly is), but rather that using Judaism to argue against the existence of the State of Israel or to circumstantially critique the State is ill-informed.

To achieve the first, some ‘woke’ Jews overemphasize their Jewish faith. Tuckerman merely mentioned that she was Jewish and brought up anecdotes from her childhood to support this identity, which could have no negative intentions. Jews in organizations such as Nishmat, however, have negative intentions from making themselves seem like observant Jews. Nishmat claims to be a Jewish organization and it follows certain Jewish traditions and practices. It only follows those that don’t go against their political views, however. Many sects of Judaism do this as well but to a more limited degree. The important distinction is that Nishmat is willing to completely change the theology of the religion, the connection between Israel and Judaism, for political purposes. In contrast, even the most progressive forms of Judaism may try to conform theology to allow modern-day practices like transgenderism, but they would never outright eliminate such a basic tenet of the religion. Nishmat exists solely because of this attempt to separate Judaism from Israel for political, not religious reasons. This is why the main Jewish institution on campus, Hillel, refuses to accept these political maneuvers because they go against basic ideals of Judaism. 

Using their subsequent position of legitimacy, Jewish anti-Israel activists attempt to destroy existing Jewish institutions. At a recent Hillel event, I overheard a student saying how she enjoys Hillel, but students at Nishmat were telling her that she can’t attend Hillel if she wants to be part of their organization. With new institutions like Nishmat, these ‘woke’ Jews attempt to reinforce their aberrant values among the Jewish community. To do so, they create organizations with a set of Jewish values clearly radical and different from establishment institutions, purely to align with their political agendas. Any legitimate Jewish institution acknowledges what is the most important— for Jews, Israel dictates everything from what direction we face praying to our theology surrounding the coming of the Messiah. But by mutilating my religion for the sake of their political agenda, anti-Israel Jewish activists can conveniently leave out this central tenant.

Anti-Israel Jewish activists coerce Jews into leaving establishment Jewish institutions to prevent Jews from understanding that they have been manipulated. If Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) and Nishmat’s existence rests on the lie about Israel being an apartheid state, their greatest threat would be their members finding out that reality contradicts their assertion. At the club fair at the beginning of the semester, I approached Claremont’s JVP chapter and asked them if they would be open to debate or perhaps a more informal dialogue regarding Israel and Palestine; their answer was a resounding “no.” They said it was because they “do not engage in dialogue with Zionists,” clearly showing that they are afraid to engage with anyone who holds opinions contrary to their stated beliefs 

The ‘woke’ Jews have one simple motivation: to gain popularity in an environment that is generally critical of Israel. If Israel’s own people—the Jews—can acknowledge Israel’s actions, they reinforce the belief that Israel is purely bad. Comparably speaking, few people care about Pitzer professor Dan Segal‘s anthropology research; however, many do care about his opinions on Israel. As a result, there is a strong temptation among politically active students and faculty with little connection to Judaism (or without a strong Jewish identity), and therefore little connection to the Jewish State, to use their religion as a position of authority. They can say “I am a Jew and therefore my opinion critical of Israel is more valid,” and in the world of intersectionality, will gain more attention from their peers. Those who do fall into this temptation are doing a disservice to themselves and their community. They certainly have a right to share any opinion they want, but it is immoral to brazenly appropriate Jewish values in this manner. I myself could do the same, and with more justification given the relative extent of my Judaic background. But I, unlike the Jewish anti-Israel activists, do not need to primarily base my argument around my identity. The State of Israel has a right to exist because it is the historical homeland of the Jewish nation, as proven through archeological, cross-textual, and linguistic evidence. Furthermore, the only way someone can make arguments critiquing the defensive actions of Israel as out of proportion is if they take Israel’s record out of context compared to the actions of every other country surrounding Israel or in the world. If they actually believe what they are saying, there would be no reason to even mention the fact that they are Jewish, because their argument has no basis in the religion. But they do for the purpose of making their radical ‘Jewish’ institutions appeal to a broader audience of Jews on campus, and thus have the primary motive of gaining credibility among their radical peers.

Jews did not die at the sword in Masada, in the chambers of Auschwitz, and in the wars for the defense of the Jewish State so that organizations like Nishmat and JVP could separate the undeniable connection between the Jews and the Jewish state:

“And it shall come to pass in that day, that the Lord shall set his hand again the second time to recover the remnant of his people, which shall be left…And he shall assemble the outcasts of Israel, and gather together the dispersed of Judah from the four corners of the earth” (Isaiah 11:11-12). 

 “If I forget thee o Jerusalem may it be as though I forgot my right hand” (Psalms 137). 

“My heart is in the east, and I in the uttermost west.

How can I find savour in food? How shall it be sweet to me?

How shall I render my vows and my bonds, while yet

Zion lies beneath the fetter of Edom, and I in Arab chains?

A light thing would it seem to me to leave all the good things of Spain” (Yehuda ha Levi). 

Jews are indigenous to Israel just as Native Americans are indigenous to the Americas and the aboriginals are indigenous to Australia. Only those who put adulation above faith, identity, and community, will feel the need to disagree with this undeniable bond. And only the person who feels the need to hold the only Jewish state to a different standard than that which applies to every single other country in the world will feel it necessary to draw critique to the state on the grounds. Those who disagree have maimed the character of Jews at this institution. The most marginalized group on this campus is neither the black, nor the Muslim, nor the homosexual; it is the Jew. Only he suffers from a fifth column of members of his faith appropriating Judaism for selfish political causes. There will be a day, however, that the Jewish community will be rebuilt with proper values, never excluding Ahavat Israel. 

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